Catching Up with Fergus


I was nineteen when you were born.
Waiting for you shortened that first scary
winter term away from home.
I saw you only hours old, little brother,
two weeks late; wrinkled skin, big feet.

Now it’s me that’s running late. I catch up
with you at six, but find you’ve just turned eight.
I’ve tracked your growing up, but not come close
to making out your boy things, your reserve.
Just the other day you caught me watching.
‘What?’ you growled. And to my questions
answered ‘stuff’, ‘dunno’ and ‘s’alright’.
I sneaked around your room in school time
compiled a list, to find you in the way your ‘stuff’
fits together. But I’m no nearer.

I nose through memories, make another list:
At two you pulled off all my castor-oil plant’s leaves.
At five I taught you ‘Three Blind Mice’ on lettered piano keys.
(Now one finger drums the tune to ‘Mission Impossible’).
I’ve brushed your teeth, had baths with you. Read you stories.
Pushed you in your pram, on the swing, on your bike.
Carried you on my shoulders, on my back, in my arms.
I’ve written four poems about you
and known you for ten years.
When I visit, you say (but not to me) you want me to stay.
Goodbye is standing on each other’s feet.

Published in Kin: Scottish Poems about Family, ed. Hamish Whyte (Polygon: 2009)

Guessing Weather

I miss most waking up to turn my head,
glimpse through pillow-level port hole
rain-hit swells or air-stilled calms
or wind-thrown waves. Knowing first thing
the kind of day we had.

I miss, as much, dealing with heavy rain.
Pinning the corners of plastic bags to cracks,
trimming the bucket’s position to catch the drips.
Tensing tarpaulin ropes. Bailing out.
Rain so loud there’s no talk of method.
I miss postponing everything
for urgent weather-proofing.

Now back on land, under a holeless roof,
I peer at huddled trees for slanting rain.
If I’m quiet I can hear tyres splashing puddles.
If I’m still I can smell city-muted dampness.
Today the wind is up. Some roads are flooded.

Eight miles west a storm mauls your boat.
With bag in one hand, pins in the other,
I think of you inventing practical tricks
to keep the weather out, patch up the leaking deck,
ensure you’re dry, today.
I open wide my squarely-fitted window,
feel drizzle spot my face. The clouds are moving fast.

Published in The Rialto, No.48